A few years ago, I heard my friend’s teenage daughter say that she was about to delete one of her Instagram posts. When I asked why, she explained to me that any post with fewer than 100 likes was universally considered a “dud” and that she and most of her friends just deleted them after a day had passed.
I went home to ask my own kids if this was common practice among their friends who are a bit older, and they concurred, “Pretty much – especially with girls.” I was surprised at this discovery, but I guess I shouldn’t have been. Teenagers’ lives revolve around peer relationships and social acceptance. Which is why social media platforms are the perfect obsession for so many kids, with their quantitative and graphic confirmation of followers, likes, and views.
The effects of too much social media can be worrisome.
And because social media is now so deeply embedded in the lives of our teens and young adults, parents often worry about the effects it is having on kids’ self-esteem and mental health. We read the scary headlines about the increased rates of depression, anxiety and suicide among adolescents today, particularly those that are subjected to online bullying and hurtful comments. We watch our kids taking endless selfies and friend group shots, carefully editing photos, striving to project a near-perfect image online.
When we know that even some adults work very hard to create a glorified version of reality on social media, we can see how easy it is for teens to fall prey to the constant comparisons of their “regular” life to that of the “highlight reel” lives of those that they follow. And we have to wonder how this 24/7 popularity contest atmosphere will affect their mental health and happiness in the long term.
Instagram will begin testing hiding likes in the US
So, I was pleased to see that Instagram, after months of testing in several other countries, will soon begin to test the hiding of public “likes” for a limited number of accounts in the U.S. (Users will still be able to privately see their own likes.)
This move highlights the fact that some tech companies are beginning to reassess how certain features negatively affect the mental health of their users and they have become aware of the burnout that some users feel. According to polling, a lot of teens have now started taking voluntary breaks from social media, because they are tired of the drama and conflict.
Of course, many businesses and influencers are not overjoyed at Instagram’s announcement, due to fears of losing revenue, but as a parent, I applaud their decision and appreciate the remarks from the Instagram Head, Adam Mosseri, who promises that the platform will always strive to place the needs of people first.
It means we’re going to put a 15-year-old kid’s interests before a public speaker’s interest, he says. When we look at the world of public content, we’re going to put people in that world before organizations and corporations.
I find this refreshing to hear from the head of the world’s favorite image sharing platform.
As for the issue of online bullying, Mosseri points out that “bullying predates Instagram” and the advent of the internet, but there are measures that they are taking to improve the mental and emotional health of their users. The platform is currently working with therapists and software engineers to create other tools to prevent and reduce bullying, like developing a way to persuade users take a break when they need it.
I hope that the testing of hidden likes will result in a permanent change for Instagram, and that other platforms will begin to follow suit. I believe it could be the start of some positive change, notably for younger users, who are more susceptible to the self-esteem fluctuations related to the number of likes that they fixate on. I have no doubt that influencers will continue to thrive, as account metrics will still be available to business sponsors.
I also feel like this platform change could potentially cause users to more carefully reflect upon what and why they are posting. I’m all for teens, and anyone for that matter, posting content that comes from a place of self-acceptance and true interest, not publicized solely for external validation in the form of a number.
Social media use can be enjoyable and helpful for teens to feel connection and a sense of community, but its intense comparison culture can also be dangerous. Any attempt to make it a healthier experience is a welcomed one.
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